DETECTIVES in Mutare have arrested 14 touts who were allegedly hired by prominent businessman, Ernest Mungwari, to block cops and Zimbabwe Revenue Authority officials from confiscating an assortment of goods that had been smuggled into the country from South Africa using one of the transport mogul's cross border coaches.
Allegedly following instructions from the businessman, who owns Tenda buses, the touts harassed the cops and obstructed the law enforcement agents from discharging their duties on Sunday.
Those who witnessed the drama at Sakubva Musika said the cheeky rank marshals manhandled police officers and blocked them from recovering the contraband which had been loaded in two trucks.
The cops were outnumbered and overpowered resulting in the smuggled items being whisked away to a hideout.
Manicaland police spokesman Inspector Tavhiringwa Kakohwa said the touts were facing obstruction of the course of justice charges.
Mungwari (71) and his business partner Mary Njokwe (32) were also charged with the same offence on Monday and they have since appeared before a Mutare magistrate who granted them $150 bail each.
The smuggled goods were later recovered from various hideouts after police were granted a search order.
"We can't have a situation whereby touts block police from executing their lawful duties as enshrined in the Constitution. Instead of aiding the police to arrest the two suspects who were trying to conceal smuggled items, the touts helped them commit a crime," said Insp Kakohwa.
Some of the arrested touts are Brian Mashatini (29) of Sakubva; Yeukai Butau (36) from Chineta; Steven Mudende of New Chisamba; Million Tinashe Tembo (27) from Dangamvura; Tawanda Nyamukondiwa from Zimunya; Taurai Tembo (29) from Chikanga 2 and Pedzisai Mabvundura (38) from Chinyausunzi.
On Tuesday Mungwari and Njokwe appeared before Mr Tendai Mahwe who granted them bail and also ordered them not to interfere with State witnesses until the matter is tried and finalised.
They were not asked to plead and they will be back in court on November 28.
Public prosecutor Mr Nyasha Mukonyora told the court that the suspects blocked cops and Zimra officials from confiscating goods that had been smuggled into the country.
The court heard that on October 13, three police officers were on anti-smuggling duties at Sakubva bus terminus when they received a tip off that Njokwe had received goods from a Tenda bus which had been smuggled into the country from South Africa.
Mr Mukonyora said the alert detectives visited Tenda garage in Nyakamete Industrial area and saw two vehicles which were loaded with the smuggled goods leaving the premises headed for Sakubva Musika.
At Sakubva Musika the detectives intercepted the two vehicles and demanded to see declaration papers of the goods.
Nothing was produced resulting in the cops apprehending Njokwe.
However, Mungwari arrived at the scene driving a Range Rover.
He mobilised about 20 touts who violently offloaded the goods and took them into Njokwe's shop.
The following day — October 14, the detectives looked for back up and with ZRP Support Unit details and Zimra officials to arrest the two suspects.
The contraband was also recovered.
— Manica Post